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February 10, 2014

These plants are next best thing to chocolate

Next best thing to favorite Valentine's treat

With Valentine’s Day coming up, thoughts naturally turn to chocolate.

How nice it would be for gardeners to give their beloved a living, growing, chocolate expression of affection.

Alas, chocolate, native to steamy equatorial lowlands, is not usually productive when grown as a houseplant. Even if you could get the football-sized pods dangling from the trunk of a chocolate tree, fairly intricate processing is needed before you’d have something worth sinking your teeth into.

But there are some chocolate-y alternatives:

ALMOST CHOCOLATE

A number of plants — Chocolate Ruffles coral bells, Chocolate Cake gladiola and Sweet Chocolate pepper, for example — have chocolate-y looking leaves or fruits. Let’s shy away from them, though, because their chocolate is only skin deep.

Plants with chocolate-y aromas offer instant gratification more akin to Hershey’s Kisses. For an affair on shaky ground and needing a quick horticultural chocolate fix, I suggest a peppermint geranium plant. Peppermint geranium makes a nice houseplant for a sunny windowsill, and, in spring, feathery white blossoms add to the sensual pleasure. OK, it’s not chocolate, but there is that common association of peppermint and chocolate.

The Chocolate Mint variety of peppermint is another plant that shares its aroma as soon as it is in hand. Close your eyes and this one’s a stand-in for a Peppermint Patty. I’m not sure there’s really any chocolate in that peppermint-y aroma; perhaps it’s the chocolate-y hue of the leaves and the power of suggestion. Chocolate Mint, like other mints, is easy to grow and multiply. Mints do become scraggly indoors, so plan on eventually planting chocolate mint outdoors in a sunny garden bed.

Wax plant (Hoya carnosa) is an easy-to-grow houseplant with a genuine, sweet, chocolate-y aroma, though it might require some patience. The aroma comes from the flowers, which are not borne continuously. Still, if you and that special person can stand the wait, just hold hands and admire the way the fleshy leaves twist around in their waxy smoothness. The pure chocolate aroma is worth waiting for.

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